Process and Providence: The Evolution Question at Princeton, 1845-1929
by Bradley J. Gundlach
Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Mich. 374 pages
It is a staple of American church history that the late nineteenth century witnessed the churches grappling with the challenge of evolution and biblical criticism. It is almost as well known that the theologians at Princeton became the Maginot Line of criticism of evolution, the defense of biblical authority and the assertion of Calvinist Orthodoxy (known as the Princeton theology). Along comes Grundlach, a revisionist of this standard treatment. Focusing on the theologians at both Princeton Seminary and Princeton University, Grundlach offers a careful reading and a finely nuanced chronicle of the Princeton theologians. He shows that they were far more sympathetic to the idea of historical development and even “evolution,” as long as the metaphysics behind it was rejected. In his analysis, the Princeton theologians were heroic figures, rather than archaic relics, who sought to address the liberal theology of the period without capitulating to its basic assumptions and assertions. This is not a book for the casual reader but for the earnest inquirer into American church history and American Presbyterianism. It helps reveal the debates that still resound in some quarters, well into the twenty-first century.
Reviewed by JOHN M. MULDER, former president of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.